I think we can all agree that one of the most challenging aspects of education is discipline and the use of exclusion (suspension, expulsion), especially regarding substance abuse infractions. There are many competing priorities running through our minds when a student runs afoul of a substance-use policy: we are concerned for the student’s immediate physical safety as well as their long-term well-being; we want to punish them; we want to support them; we want them to get help. Above all, we want them to stop.
Over the past few years, social expectations and school policies have made huge shifts in how substance-use infractions are dealt with. Campuses have moved from having student smoking areas on school grounds to having exclusion policies for infractions of tobacco use on school grounds. We have moved from open acceptance, to subjective and inconsistent discipline, to zero-tolerance. Many of our districts have evolved considerably on the issues of substance abuse, others not as much, so it is no surprise that policies, procedures, and due process vary from district to district.
Due to the significant shift this represents, and to support district and school administrators as they bring their policies into alignment, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has rolled out “best practice” menus centered around the use of discipline in all domains and providing guidance on these changes. An example of those supports has been the expansion of a robust Student Discipline information page which includes “Best Practices” menus, such as Administrative Procedures, Classroom Procedures, and Best Practices and Laws in K-12 Student Discipline. There are also a number of informational fliers provided and available in 11 languages (see links below). Across the state, OSPI has developed a series of full-day trainings for school administrators. These trainings will focus on the stickiest of discipline issues: isolation, restraint and, of course, substance-related infractions.
A key misapprehension about these changes is that the use of exclusion is now prohibited. However the rules set forth do not prevent schools from using exclusion. As stated in the OSPI technical guide, “Consistent with state statutes and guidance as well as federal guidance and laws, the new discipline rules provide that school districts may use suspension or expulsion only as a last resort.”
Another area of concern is emergent safety situations and a mistaken assumption that schools will be constrained from reacting to potential threats. This is squarely addressed by OSPI:
“…the new rules do not limit school districts from taking a range of appropriate actions to respond to threats or aggressive behavior without resorting to suspension or expulsion—including using a threat assessment to manage or reduce a threat posed by a student.”
To aid in this effort, the Behavioral Health and Prevention Services department of the NWESD, has been expanding their training of staff in districts across the region; both in Level 1 and 2 of the Salem-Keizer Threat Assessment protocol – best practice for identifying and addressing potential concerns. Additionally, emergency expulsion is still an option for high-risk situations that pose an “immediate and continuing danger to others or an immediate and continuing threat to the educational process.”
I have had several conversations with administrators all over our region concerning these policy revisions in Student Discipline. There is strong agreement with Superintendent Reykdal that these rules are outdated, and change is necessary. While this effort represents a daunting task in terms of getting up to speed and implementing these new rules within each district, there is a great deal of optimism knowing this work represents a positive step toward improving student outcomes.
If you are interested in learning more about “School Discipline, Substance Use, and Restraint and Isolation: Policy and Proactive Approaches to Support Positive Behavior,” the NWESD will be hosting this OSPI training for our region on Wednesday, October 30, 2019, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
If you would like to set up a Threat Assessment training, please contact Jeff Dowhaniuk, Threat Assessment Project Manager.